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Descending Haleakala, Hawaii

Beeliner Cherise popped onto our radar when she started posting some beautiful photos of her Beelines on Instagram, including an epic photo from the top of a volcano.  We got in touch to find out more...and here is Cherise's account of her ride down Hawaii's Haleakala.


'The Haleakalā volcano is the centerpiece of the island of Maui in Hawaii, culminating in a spectacular crater dotted with hiking trails and observation points. Haleakalā means “house of the sun”, and it’s a sacred place. So it’s best to take your time at the top, then save yourself for the scenic 35km ride down 31 switchbacks from the summit.



Theoretically, I could have set out earlier and reserved at least half a day for the climb, then after taking a quick look around the volcanic crater, turned the bike around and enjoyed the ride back down. The road that leads to the peak of Haleakalā is ribbed with a series of switchbacks with an average grade of 5%, which make a round-trip ride doable in a day, albeit time and energy-consuming at climate-varying altitudes. I was also traveling with someone who was much happier piloting from behind the wheel than balancing herself on two, so instead I rented one bike and a car rack, and we drove the long and winding path up to take in the volcanic sights together.





Haleakalā has been dormant since the 17th century, so poses little threat of eruption, and since 1961 hosts a dedicated astrophysical research observatory situated at its peak altitude of 3,050m. The observatory itself lies within the sprawling Haleakalā National Park, over 130km2 of hardened mafic lava flow in varying earth tones that make up the photogenic crater of Maui’s natural tourist attraction. And the vast majority of this area is pure wilderness.


The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Not surprisingly, the number of visitors at the summit peaks every morning at sunrise, followed by every evening at sunset. A reservation is now required to enter the park before sunrise. Downhill bicycle tours are no exception to these popular viewing times, and they all do good business. Yet they are often expensive, inconveniently timed and fully booked during high season. Most crucially, because commercial downhill bicycle tours have been banned from entering the park since October 2007 (reportedly following multiple fatal accidents), bike tours now only begin their descent from outside the entrance to the park at 1980m, or more than one-third of the way down to sea level from the summit.



Meanwhile, few people seem to realize that you can also rent a bicycle individually and go up and down on your own, whenever you choose, at your own pace. I found this out just a few days before my visit, and I’m so glad I did. Of course, it’s common sense to keep in mind that the summit will be quite windy and at least 15c degrees cooler than on the beach, that there is no fuel, no food and only limited water available inside the park, and on the December 31 of my visit, both visitor’s centers were closed. But a responsible, licensed bike company, such as Bike Maui in Haiku, should provide you with not only a proper downhill bicycle, helmet and rack, but also a small backpack containing extra windbraking clothes and all the tools you might need, just in case.


And the reward for planning my indie descent all the way from Haleakalā’s “Red Hill” peak was extraordinary—mild temperatures in the early afternoon, where just a sweatshirt was enough to stay warm, no big crowds around the observation points, bright rolling panoramic views of the volcanic landscape, from above the clouds to the sea-level horizon, and very light vehicle traffic on the way down. In fact, I didn’t even see any other cyclists until I reached the bottom of Haleakalā Highway, where the switchbacked route 378 meets northbound 377.




As for the ride itself, it was a thrilling experience to feel both safe and free to fully indulge in every deliberate twist and turn of the smoothly paved terrain. Unfortunately, it ended all too soon. My scenic downhill speed averaged 37.7km/h, so the entire descent to Kula Market Place took less than an hour… Next time, I will definitely start out earlier for the climb!'


The whole ride sounds so epic that we're ready to pack up our bikes and jump on the next flight over to Honolulu. You can find out more at the US National Park Service, the University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy, and Maui Bike Rentals


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